By Tatum Tummins
As students go through their journey of primary education, they face many challenges. They have to master their times tables in math class and learn how to form friendships, but for children in impoverished communities, access to books limits their reading ability and creates a challenge with lasting effects.
Ride for Reading is an organization that aims to solve this issue by promoting literacy and health to children in low-income areas.
“Ride for Reading’s mission is to ensure kids across low income communities have the basic access to age-appropriate books” says executive director Juan Torres.
Ride for Reading was founded in 2008 by teacher Mathew Portell. When Portell discovered some children in his class did not own a book, he decided to combine his passion for cycling and his desire to help solve this issue.
Today volunteers from around the country come together to ride their bikes into elementary schools to provide books for students. There are other non-profit organizations dedicated to increasing literacy, but no one else does it quite like Ride for Reading.
“We are riding into schools where there are over 600 screaming children excited to see you and excited to read. Nothing feels better than that,” says Torres.
Through the help of volunteers and book donations, Ride for Reading is making an impact across the country.
“We have donated over 300,000 books to over 200 schools with the help of over 10,000 volunteers,” says Torres. “We have donated to over 40 cities across 25 states. In Nashville alone, we have already donated to virtually all Title I schools.”
Although they have already made a large impact, Torres has high expectations for continued growth.
“Ride for Reading is growing nationally at an incredible speed. In five years, we hope to establish another permanent office outside the state of Tennessee. Ultimately, we hope to distribute anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 books annually.”
Ride for Reading’s goals can only be accomplished through the help of volunteers, and its success can only grow by getting more volunteers involved.
“We need more bike riders to get involved in our deliveries. We are constantly seeking newcomers to get engaged with our mission and to give us an opportunity to show them our work,” says Torres.
When it comes to volunteers, anyone is welcome to come contribute. Torres says they need cyclists, teachers, students and businesses to contribute and support the organization in any way that they can. Ride for Reading offers various organizational aspects for people to get involved in and prides itself on providing an experience for volunteers to interact with the children they’re serving.
Volunteers like David Perreault exemplify volunteering for Ride for Reading.
“I volunteer because I see books and bikes as vehicles to help these kids escape. If they like to read, it gives them an escape from their surroundings, says Perreault. “It’s a vehicle to get away. Books are a way for these kids to see that there’s more to the world than the place they live.”
Perreault is a computer engineer and an enthusiastic cyclist who directs his passions for biking and serving to make an impact. He began volunteering around six years ago and continues to volunteer six to eight times a year depending what his schedule allows.
Although there are several ways to volunteer, Perreault focuses on the book deliveries and festivals.
“It looks like a bunch of happy bike riding people carrying books on their backs to a group of excited youngsters. The energy we experience when we arrive is indescribable, you have to do it once to experience it for yourself,” he says.
As a volunteer-led organization, Ride for Reading also depends heavily on volunteers to coordinate book drives. Shelly Wedge was responsible for a recent book drive in Salt Lake City.
“I was reading Cycling Magazine and came across an article on Ride for Reading. I knew I had to be a part of this,” says Wedge.
“To be honest, I was nervous about hosting the event. We have an amazing cycling community in Salt Lake City, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to collect enough books to support a school of 600 Students.”
However, she utilized her community to make this event a success.
“As it turned out, we collected enough for two schools,” says Wedge.
She reached out to two key volunteers who helped her collect books. Once she collected the books, Wedge reached out to a few local bike shops for more volunteers. A total of 57 riders helped deliver books to the children in need.
Wedge recalls her favorite moments since volunteering are when the children express a passion for bikes. Volunteers are deeply impacted by the children they serve, many of them experiencing the same excitement in book sorting as they did when they were younger and picking books for themselves.
“My wish is for everyone to have the experience I did in sharing the joy of reading and riding to kids, “says Wedge. “It was a truly overwhelming gift.”
If you are interested in volunteering with Ride for Reading, follow the organization on social media.
“It’s very easy to start, all you have to do is like the Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, or sign-up for their newsletter on their website,” says Perreault. They’ll post an event and you sign up. It’s that easy.”
For more information about Ride for Reading, please visit their website or social media accounts listed below. There is a need for book and they hope you can help be a part of the solution.
“Take the leap and do it. Host a ride in your area or be a ride volunteer,” says Wedge. “It will be an unforgettable experience.”